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EU chief Frans Timmermans piles pressure on Romania over corruption reforms

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EU chief Frans Timmermans piles pressure on Romania over corruption reforms
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Brussels chief Frans Timmermans has used a visit to Bucharest to hit out at Romania over its stance on corruption and judicial reforms.

There is a concern over legislation protesters say threatens judicial independence and decriminalises some graft offences.

Romania, like its neighbour Bulgaria, remains under European Commission (EC) monitoring regarding these reforms via the Cooperation and Verification Mechanism (CVM). Annual reports are published to track progress.

"We want to make sure that the fight against corruption isn’t abandoned, that we continue this fight because it’s very important for the future of this country," said Timmermans, vice president of the EC, who was in the Romanian capital to accept an honorary degree from the political science university SNSPA.

"The problem for me is that since the publishing of the CVM we’ve seen no progress, we’ve seen a refusal of the commission’s documents by the Romanian government."

But the ruling Social Democrat party (PSD) rejects all criticism from Brussels and says repealing the legislation is not the solution.

"All those who ask for the repeal of the emergency decree are people who don’t know the law, they’re clueless," said Eugen Nicolicea, vice-president of the Chamber of Deputies.

"If you withdraw something that modified another law, so if you take back the changes made by this decree, you don’t restore the initial form of the law."

There have been regular protests against what campaigners see as a weakening of the fight against corruption and the country's rule of law.

"The political power has to have a contact with us, a dialogue," said Emil Ionescu a philosophy professor taking part in a demonstration in Bucharest.

"This does not happen now! I don’t think this is the right reaction from the part of the political power."

Political analysts say the Romanian judiciary is in danger of being instrumentalised and politicised by the government in the context of a trend of illiberalism throughout Europe.

"It is the same direction as in the case of Fidesz or the ruling party in Poland, so it’s about the interest to change Europe, the orientation of the commission – the future commission – and the parliament," said Christian Pirvulescu, a political science professor at SNSPA, told Euronews. "They want to impose these illiberal ideas in the interior of the mainstream European parties."

Romania, at the helm of the rotating EU presidency, is ranked by Transparency International as one of the European Union’s most corrupt countries.

Bucharest maintains its dedicated to eradicating corruption and shares the union's core values.